by Sean Ross, VP of Music & Programming
It has taken American programmers a little while to come around on the Jack/Bob format—the Classic Hits/Hot AC hybrid that has been generating so much attention in Canada for the last 18 months. As the format’s success spread from market to market last year, some industry folks were quick to cast aspersions on any gold-based format (as if that had stopped U.S. broadcasters from rushing in to All-‘80s or Jammin’ Oldies). Some just whistled when they heard about the 900-1,100 song playlists or the wide variety. Mostly, though, a format that started in Winnipeg and Vancouver just wasn’t going to be front-and-center for a lot of PDs, despite the author’s ongoing attempts to draw attention to it.
But by last fall, the format finally started to make some inroads in the U.S., starting with the launch of KHUI (99.5 Bob FM) Honolulu under CFWM Winnipeg format originator Howard Kroeger and Citadel’s KQOB (Bob 96.9) Oklahoma City. In recent days, we’ve seen the addition of two more Bobs: Sinclair’s WPYA (106.1 Bob FM) Norfolk, Va., consulted by Joel Folger, and Kroeger’s KEUG (Bob 105.5) Eugene, Ore. And veteran U.S. programmer Garry Wall has started aggressively promoting the “Jack” version of the format to potential U.S. licensees in recent months.
It’s very early, of course, but so far the U.S. results have been mixed. In Honolulu, KHUI debuted with a 0.9 share in the fall, down from the 3.1 it was doing as one of the market’s numerous Hawaiian music outlets. In the first winter trend, it was at a 1.0 share. In Oklahoma City, however, KQOB went 2.1-3.1 in the fall and was up again to a 3.6 in the first trend.
So can you yet divine anything about the U.S. prospects of the format? Well, it has already worked in some fashion down here. Under PD Randy James, the-then Jacor’s WMVX (Mix 106.5) Cleveland went 3.3-5.7 in its first book after segueing from more traditional AC as WLTF. WMVX didn’t quite have the stationality of the Jack/Bobs, (although it was a well-produced, well-executed station with a deliberately askew tag line that promised “the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘70s”), but it certainly demonstrated what could happen when you played “You Shook Me All Night Long” on a Hot AC or tested men as well as women. Most of the Jacor/Clear Channel “Mix” stations eventually evolved to more-traditional ‘80s-based Hot ACs, but not before the blueprint was laid down.
Canadian station staffs are still a size that most U.S. broadcasters can only remember wistfully.
It’s also worth noting that while WMVX inspired a flurry of rock-based Hot ACs at the time, the most prominent success stories were in midwestern markets, as opposed to, say, Philadelphia, where it was also tried. Seeing the format explode in Winnipeg (and later Calgary) made perfect sense. Seeing the format explode in Vancouver was a little surprising, but even that more cosmopolitan city has a long history as a Rock market. In fact, in most Canadian markets, you can count on finding women who rock and an audience that grew up on Rock radio because Top 40 was, by law, kept off of FM in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
So it makes sense that Bob/Oklahoma City would be getting traction ahead of Bob/Honolulu. Oklahoma City is a market where classic rock KRXO had an 8.0 share before Bob’s debut. (It was down to a 6.9 in the fall and a 5.9 in the first trend.) In Honolulu, Classic Rock KAHA had surprised the market with a 4.1 share, and then leveled off to more typical numbers, even before Bob debuted. In Honolulu, Hawaiian-formatted stations take as many shares out of the market as R&B does in its best American markets.
There’s no rule, of course, that American Jack/Bob stations would have to play only Rock, but, so far, the lessons of both Canada and OKC are that it works best where you can go after both Rock and Hot AC audiences. Leaning more pop or rhythmic would also make it harder to go after men. And while Honolulu might have been a market where it would have made sense to mix the genres, we won’t know because Bob’s sister station, KQMQ, was already successfully playing the rhythmic ‘80s. (Norfolk will also be an interesting case study because of the market’s new Album Rock Max 100.5, which is already going after the variety franchise, at least for men.)
While Jack/Bob fans are correct, of course, when they say that it was the stationality of CFWM, CKLG (97.3 Jack FM) Vancouver and the others that made them a phenomenon, it still looks like the format will work better in U.S. markets where there is a hole between Classic Rock and Hot AC. And KVMX Portland, Ore., has quietly evolved from All-‘80s to a more Bob/Jack-like ‘70s/’80s mix, getting a second act that most ‘80s stations couldn’t hope for (3.5-4.1 in the fall) with a more straight-ahead presentation than its Canadian brethren.
Meanwhile, if anybody is wondering about the durability of the format in Canada, these are the fall BBM numbers:
CFWM 9.8-9.3 (down from a peak of 14.4, but still No.3)
CKIS (96.9 Jack FM) Calgary, 19.0-17.0 and still No. 1
CKKL (Bob 93.9) Ottawa, 6.6-8.9-7.9 in its first two books
CJDV (Dave FM) Kitchener, Ont., debuted with a 7.1 at No. 3
CHST (Bob 102.3) London, Ont., 7.9-12.0
CISS (92.5 Jack FM) Toronto, 3.5-4.2
And there are still sign-ons in the format, most recently in Edmonton and Victoria, B.C. As with WMVX in its early days, many of the earlier stations are now playing a handful of currents and recurrents, although mostly of the “Someday” and “First Cut Is The Deepest” vintage.
American broadcasters can’t count on all of the things that made stations like CFWM and CKLG successful: slightly under-radioed markets (although not as much as you might think) that had never heard an All-‘70s or All-‘80s station and a long history of homegrown rock (perhaps the best genre of Canadian music) that worked better for stations that had to play 35-40% Canadian content.
Broadcasters who pursue Jack/Bob in the U.S. will have to do the things that make radio stations great, and not the things that distinguish a station looking for a quick fix. (It also helps that Canadian station staffs are still a size that most U.S. broadcasters can only remember wistfully.) They’ll also have to manage their stations’ variety carefully. American broadcasters who get the chance to throw out the rulebook and play “songs that don’t test” often go berserk, going for too much variety or too many songs that don’t test. There aren’t quite as many of those (or as many different styles) on the Canadian stations as you might intuit from Jack’s “Playing What We Want” slogan. But nearly two years into the format’s development, one can argue that the central concept will be valid here—for one thing, we’ve already had proof.
BOB THERE AND HERE
CFWM (BOB 99.9) WINNIPEG
Middays, February 2004
Alice Cooper, “You And Me”
Mike & the Mechanics, “All I Need Is A Miracle”
Toronto, “All I Need” (female Canadian rock along the lines of Pat Benatar)
Phil Collins, “Sussudio”
Bon Jovi, “Livin’ On A Prayer”
Peter Frampton, “Show Me The Way”
Paul Janz, “Believe In Me” (Canadian)
Spin Doctors, “Two Princes”
David Bowie, “Fame”
B-52’s, “Love Shack”
Alanis Morissette, “Thank U”
Foreigner, “Double Vision”
Glenn Frey, “You Belong To The City”
Afternoons, March 10, 2004
Wings, “Live And Let Die”
Uncle Kracker, “Drift Away”
Melissa Etheridge, “Bring Me Some Water”
Tone-Loc, “Wild Thing”
Counting Crows, “Round Here”
Sheryl Crow, “The First Cut Is The Deepest”
Rolling Stones, “19th Nervous Breakdown”
Alanis Morissette, “Thank U”
Tom Petty & Heartbreakers, “Refugee”
Nine Days, “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)”
Sean Ross is Edison Media Research’s VP of Music & Programming and the former editor-in-chief of Airplay Monitor, Billboard Magazine’s radio programming publication. The opinions expressed here are his own and can be found on the edisonresearch.com Web site every week. Sean can be reached at 908.707.4707 or SRoss@edisonresearch.com.